People who were bullied by siblings during childhood are up to three times more likely to develop psychotic disorders.

New research by the University of Warwick, Led by Professor Dieter Wolke (senior author) at Warwick’s Department of Psychology, explored the relationship between sibling bullying and the development of psychotic disorders.

Almost 3,600 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children completed a detailed questionnaire on sibling bullying at twelve years of age, and then subsequently filled out a standardized clinical examination assessing psychotic symptoms when they were eighteen years old.

Of the adolescents, 664 were victims of sibling bullying, 486 children were pure bullies to their siblings and 771 children were bully-victims (victimized by siblings and bullied their siblings), at age twelve.

Fifty-five of the total 3600 children in the study had developed a psychotic disorder by the age of eighteen.

The researchers found that the more frequently children are involved in sibling bullying – either as a bully, victim, or both – the more likely they are to develop a psychotic disorder.

Those involved in sibling bullying (as bully or victim) several times a week or month are two to three times more likely to develop a psychotic disorder than other kids.

The children most at risk are victims of sibling bullying and those who both become victims and bully their siblings (bully-victims).

Children who are victimised both at home and by school peers are even worse off – being four times more likely to develop psychotic disorders than those not involved in bullying at all.

Senior author Professor Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology commented, “Bullying by siblings has been until recently widely ignored as a trauma that may lead to serious mental health problems such as psychotic disorder.

“Children spend substantial time with their siblings in the confinement of their family home and if bullied and excluded, this can lead to social defeat and self-blame and serious mental health disorder – as shown here for the first time.”

First author Slava Dantchev, from the University of Warwick says, “If the bullying occurs at home and at school the risk for a psychotic disorder is even higher. These adolescents have no safe place.

“Although we controlled for much pre-existing mental health and social factors, it cannot be excluded that the social relationship problems may be early signs of developing serious mental health problems rather than their cause.”

The researchers conclude that parents and health professionals should be made aware of the long-term mental health consequences that sibling bullying may have – and that interventions must be developed in order to reduce and even prevent this form of aggression within families.

No form of bullying is OK! Stop the bully now.

Share your comments below.

  • My heart breaks for any parents not being listened too. I have been lucky to have excellent care for my baby when we had to go the emergency department but it’s still a huge comfort that these protections are in place.


  • I sure can imagine the damaging effect of bullying on the personality of a kid. I would however think it’s more likely they develop anxieties, fears, compulsions or low self esteem then psychosis (although we all can suffer psychosis under extreme pressure).


  • I know a boy who has been bullied at school. His younger brother is showing worse symptoms than he is. I have recently noticed that the older one may be taking it out on the younger boy who is very sad at times.


  • I just never had a chance!


  • What scarey results! To think kids are so open to being damaged by their win siblings. There is so much sibling fighting going on, how are parents to know when it’s too much?!


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